Riding the Wave

— It seems Joanne McNeil meant to comment on the horrifying recent rape on 14th and R. But she takes…. how to put it?… an insane turn, and lashes out with stupefying ignorance and incoherence at people who sound remarkably like me and my beloved housemates. Let’s look at what Joanne says, bit by bit, after her recap of the crime.

I walk alone around that party [sic] of town, and have done so, even before it housed places like Saint Ex. This news was a wakeup call. No matter how much an apartment just put on the market in Logan Circle costs– sorry, I meant, “Dupont East” — or how many corporate coffee chains flood the neighborhood, recreating a ghetto into a shopping mall won’t happen overnight.

So , I live in this part of town. Now, how exactly is a terrifying rape a wake-up call? Is it that the victim is white? Is it that she is a lesbian? Is it because Joanne doesn’t expect rapes in “shopping malls”? Is it because she thinks that women aren’t raped in DuPont or Foggy Bottom or Cleveland Park or Van Ness? Has she looked at the crime statistics? Did she ever THINK coffee chains were talismans against violence? Is crime outside a homeless shelter a jaw-dropping surprise? Why are we waking up? Who wasn’t already awake?

Whereas, people like Zoe and her roommates understood the risks and dangers when they moved in their house a few years ago; the third and fourth-wave gentrifiers are either clueless to it, or even worse– the product of suburban white guilt– find it charming.

OK, now. I feel sure Joanne didn’t intend it, because she couldn’t be that dumb, but this feels a touch personal. Zoe lives just a few houses down the street from ours, which we inhabited a few months ago. No doubt Zoe and Co. is a band of brave trailblazing pioneers, knowingly risking life and limb by encamping in the midst of such a sturdy enclave of black people. And no doubt we are third or fourth-wave gentrifiers, and the harsh rigors of urban life have been softened by the efforts of the enterprising first-wave gentrifiers who came to tame the colonies. But, why suppose we’re “clueless” to the risks of an increasingly integrated neighborhood? Or, worse, why suppose we’re products of suburban white guilt, and that we find it all so… charming?

Now, it’s true. I have lived in suburbs. I am white. And I’ve plenty to be guilty for. And frankly, I do find our neighborhood charming. But I find it charming in large part because I have cosmopolitan tastes, and I consider it civilized and socially desirable for people of different backgrounds, skin colors, and income brackets to live side by side. It would come to me as a massive unwelcome surprise to find that my tastes are false consciousness, and that liberal indoctrination has deposited me in harm’s way.

For every homeless person, there’s some Gap-clad white girl who out of obnoxious naivate [sic] tries to befriend him. Because all the disadvantaged need is a little TLC, right? And like, just because all the residents on a street are black, doesn’t mean a place is unsafe! There are like, plenty of places to go in Anacostia that are really neat!

Oh, for the love of God. Does Joanne actually know Gap-clad white girls who believe that the solution to homelessness or deprivation is friendship from Gap-clad white girls? And, like, AHEM!, just because all the residents on a street are black DOESN’T mean a place is unsafe. And there ARE plenty of places to go in Anacostia that are really neat. Joanne, you don’t really mean to dispute this, do you? You don’t really think black people are, ipso facto, dangerous? You don’t really believe the hundred thousand or so people who choose to live in Anacostia are just willfully stupid, and wouldn’t think to have neat places? It has never before occurred to me that perhaps mandatory sensitivity training courses DO serve a purpose. Christ.

OK. So she gets back to the rape….

But the victim wasn’t even one of them [Gap-clad naif]. She was street smart, and told the homeless guys to fuck off, rather than extending a “helping hand.” But they didn’t.

This is, just perhaps, a data point relevant to judging the success of homeless-management strategies.

And that is DC life. The crime is a reality, and not just some garnish to your banal yuppie lifestyle.

Really, Joanne, who ARE you talking to? Is your point that people–third and fourth wave gentrifiers for instance–move into certain neighborhoods BECAUSE rather than despite the crime. That is, that some folks choose to consume close proximity to rape and murder in order to spice up their otherwise intolerably prosaic whitebread lives? What kind of sick fucks ARE we!? Here we are, wearing Gap, reading InStyle, thinking we had some kind of cognizance of our surroundings and some kind of grip on our motives. No doubt we have a lot to learn.

Author: Will Wilkinson

Vice President for Research at the Niskanen Center